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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Context is King

by John Brummett | January 12, 2022 at 3:47 a.m.


In extraordinary times such as these, with Trumpian shock jock Mike Huckabee scheduled to speak at the official state-government prayer breakfast Monday in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, it's important to consider context.

Judge Wendell Griffin calls Huckabee's selection a "re-assassination" of King. That seems vaguely overstated somehow.

Longtime Democratic politico and community leader Skip Rutherford takes to Twitter to remind that Huckabee has a good side (sometimes seen in his long-ago governorship but seldom since). He says Huckabee should not be disinvited, as the Arkansas Democratic Black Caucus advocates. Rutherford's generous nature seems conciliatory to a vague fault somehow.

The context is that, ever since the Republicans took over state government including its MLK Commission, they've been appropriating King's legacy at annual observances to suit the conservatism they espouse and that King--who is no longer issuing statements--wouldn't remotely espouse, in my view and that of his family and most contemporary Black leaders.

I'm told about U.S. Rep. French Hill's speech that time. The Republican banker built as his King-based theme that King once said a man ought to be the best street-sweeper he could be if that was the job available to him. He said the street-sweeper should honor his work by sweeping as Michelangelo painted and Beethoven composed music and Shakespeare wrote.

That's beautiful. Amen. But it's entirely possible that King was about much more than a line in a sermon when he was 27, repeated occasionally thereafter, to take what work you can get and do it well.

He was fatefully in Memphis, after all, to support a sanitation workers' strike. Garbage was piling up. And King was all about taking to the street nonviolently in a holy Christian cause to seek equal rights and opportunities.

To honor him on his day by extolling a single phrase about doing menial work well if that's all you can get ... that's possibly as offensive as inviting a King Day keynoter who adores Donald Trump and ridicules Black Lives Matter.

But Rutherford is right that Huckabee gave a widely praised speech 25 years on the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, and that, as governor, he welcomed Katrina evacuees and embraced the ARKids First program for health insurance for children.

For that matter, Huckabee also said those in his party taking a hard line in the early 2000s against children of undocumented immigrants surely drank "a different Jesus juice" than he drank.

Huckabee can, and perhaps will, give a splendid address. He has the gift of gab, of glibness, honed in a disc jockey's booth and perfected in the pulpit. He knows how to tailor his tenor, preaching hellfire one Sunday and the glory of patience and forbearance the next, then coming back with a soaring appeal for tithes.

I predict he'll do somewhere between fine and swell Monday, except for a couple of instances of self-serving hyperbole and an inappropriate quip or two. He can't help himself.

Some are criticizing that this Republican state government shouldn't lend this sanctioned and supposedly nonpartisan all-citizens' forum to the father of active Republican gubernatorial candidate Sarah Sanders.

Of course it shouldn't do that. But these current Republicans seem to enjoy getting in the faces of long-controlling Democrats. Eye for eye. Tooth for tooth. Tit for tat.

It's not at all in the spirit of Dr. King, but not much is anymore.

In the end Monday will be but a blip on the screen. Huckabee and other politicians will preen and pray. Nothing will change. The next governor is going to be the next governor regardless of whether her daddy preens and prays at a prayer breakfast.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.



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